black students students of color learnng science stem

Learning Science Differently, Based on Race?

Posted on Posted in Blog, Color Me Educated

Learning Science Differently, Based on Race?

When I first started to think about science I was in first grade. I remember someone asking the teacher why mothers have morning sickness.   I raised my hand ready to offer my astute, six year old answer:
Because the baby needs room to grow and it's pushing the food out of the mommy! 
My teacher broke the news gently to me that I was wrong. And she told me to wait until I got home for my mama to tell me why.  My wrong answer, however, sparked a curiosity in me about science.  Unfortunately my science classes throughout grade school proved not to live up to my anticipation.
Science classes growing up were filled with memorizing words like mitosis and entropy.  I read endless chapters of science with no clue how what I was reading related to me or the world in general.  Such a shame.  Especially considering that I loved life science - and still do.  Year after year of remembering definitions for a test at the end of the chapter meant that when I got to college I spent less time studying and more time looking up words that I’d seen before but forgot what they meant.
I sometimes wonder if my children and others feel the same way today when they enter a science classroom.  Do they feel out of touch? Perhaps so given the fact that of the scientists and engineers in 2010:
  • 13% Asian men
  • 5% Asian women
  • 3% Black men
  • 2% Black women
  • 4% Hispanic men
  • 2% Hispanic women
  • 51% White men
  • 18% White women
A recent study looked at the difference in learning styles for students of color at a university to see if different races benefited from certain teaching strategies in a science course.  What did they find? Well, when the instructor used structured homework assignments (i.e. clear explanation of what is expected in completion of assignments), placed students in small groups (which may help to promote a sense of classroom community and prompt more participation in class discussion) and offer guided reading questions (statements given to help students think about what’s important while reading) instead of just offering a straight 50 minute lecture, students of color benefited more.
In fact on exam performance all students’ scores increased by 3.2%, but black students experienced an additional 3.1% increase and first-generation students experienced an additional 2.5% increase relative to second and third-generation students.
If all schools operated in a way that customized teaching perhaps the STEM gap – and all gaps - would not exist.  I know that my kiddos will not always run into the greatest teachers who are all passionate about their job.  I have had to adjust to teachers who lean on a lectern while they enjoy the sound of their own voice for an hour. That’s no fun.  And for the kiddos really excited about a subject you got to think they too are thinking…what a letdown.


Do you think it’s time that schools stop teaching everyone the same way?


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